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Ex-UNAMID spokesperson renews accusations of “cover up”, urges independent probe

November 2, 2014 (KHARTOUM) – The former spokesperson for the hybrid peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID), Aicha Elbasri, has refuted the findings of an internal UN review on allegations she made that the mission deliberately contributed in covering up crimes committed by government militias in the region.

Former UNAMID spokesperson Aicha Elbasri (Photo: UNAMID/file)
Former UNAMID spokesperson Aicha Elbasri (Photo: UNAMID/file)
Elbasri, resigned from her job in April 2013 after claiming that she had been prevented from carrying out her responsibility of accurately informing the public about what was happening in Darfur.

In July, the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-Moon, agreed to set up an internal probe to review the allegations that UNAMID peacekeepers had turned civilians over to armed rebels and covered up crimes by the Sudanese government, including lethal attacks against the blue helmets themselves.

On Wednesday, UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said the review team did not find any evidence to support the allegations.

“However, it did find a tendency to under-report unless absolutely certain of the facts,” he said

The report concluded that UN officials in Darfur, fearing reprisals from an often hostile Sudanese government, self-censored their reporting on Sudanese abuses, leading to “under-reporting of incidents when government and pro-government forces were suspected to be involved”.

In a statement issued on Saturday, Elbasri renewed accusations that the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) of colluded and covered up crimes committed by government militias against civilians despite of reports it received from the mission.

She urged the UN chief to form a team to launch a “thorough, independent and public” inquiry probe as requested by the International Criminal Court (ICC), saying the findings of the review team represent a further proof of the accuracy of accusations she directed to the mission and the DPKO.

Elbasri pointed the findings of the review team revealed a direct cover up by the UNAMID, describing Dujarric’s statements as “desperate attempt to clear the DPKO of involvement in covering up crimes of the Sudanese government and its allied militias”.

She described Moon’s conclusions as mere “manipulation of words” and an attempt to conceal the greater cover up done by the DPKO which is headed by the former French diplomat, Hervé Ladsous.

Elbasri further circulated the summary of the secret report of the review team which was published by the Foreign Policy on 29 October.

According to the secret report, of the 16 incidents on which UNAMID’s reporting have been reviewed, the report found five instances in which officials from the mission withheld evidence indicating the culpability of Sudanese government forces, or their proxies, in crimes against civilians and peacekeepers.

The report said the mission failed to share with DPKO a copy of the verification report on the attacks, rapes and looting at four villages in Tawilla by pro-government forces.

It also mentioned that in reporting an aggressive overflight by two government attack helicopters, “UNAMID did not report to UNHQ the verbal threat by the government to attack the convoy from the air or mention that it was carrying an arms expert from the Panel of Experts on the Sudan”.

The secret report also revealed there was reasonable evidence, including as reported internally within UNAMID, that members of Sudanese border guards were involved in the attack against Hashaba area, saying they “went on to commit crimes and human rights abuses”.

“This was not reported by UNAMID to UNHQ nor was there ever a public statement issued condemning the criminal action,” the report says

According to the report, the mission chose not to report to UN headquarters the threat by the government paramilitary Popular Defence Forces (PDF) members to identify and kill Zaghawas travelling in a mission convoy carrying two Zaghawa villagers.

Elbasri considered the mission’s silence about these threats a clear proof of killing of 10 civilians and looting and displacement crimes committed by the PDF in Sirgili village on 2 November 2012, saying it also proves targeting of Zaghawa villagers by the government troops since the end of 2010 as was mentioned in the mission’s internal reports.

The review team also said there was considerable evidence and reason to believe that the fatal attack on UNAMID team site in Muhajeria on 18 and 19 April 2013 was carried out by pro-government forces.

“Although there were two attacks that night, only the second and fatal attack was ever reported publicly,” the report said

The report also mentions that in some of the incidents reviewed, although initial reports identified the attackers as suspected government or pro-government forces, this was changed at some point in the official reporting chain with the perpetrators becoming “unidentified assailants” or “armed men in military uniform”, saying this gave the perpetrators anonymity and the government could not be held accountable for the criminal acts of its forces and proxies.

It further said that review of media reporting revealed “a stubborn resolve among key senior leaders of the not to make any public announcements without verification, despite the incidents being already reported in the international media”, pointing the Communications and Public Information Division (CPID) was dysfunctional and deeply divided over the issue of responsibility for preparation and release of mission press statements.

She said the review aimed at clearing senior officials at the DPKO after the Security Council members expressed resentment and concern over her statements and media reports particularly the report published by the Foreign Policy in April 2014.

“The goal of the review was to arrive at this justification (clearing of DPKO officials) at the expense of accusations related to the UNAMID,” she said

The report said that almost all reporting of incidents was carried out through the daily consolidated situation reports prepared by the mission’s joint operations centre, noting that follow-up verification and military investigation reports giving more detailed information were not always sent to UNHQ.

“Had they been, DPKO would have been in a better position to ensure the Security Council was fully informed and the sensitivities of Government involvement dealt with in the closed consultations of that UN organ,” it emphasised

Elbasri strongly denounced the new UN attempt to cover up collusion of the DPKO in withholding information condemning crimes committed by the government forces and militias against civilians and UNAMID personnel.

“The review team was forced to admit five instances in which the mission withheld the truth from the UNHQ. However, the DPKO, which should rather be called the War-Keeping and Prolonging Department, had received the facts from the detailed reports about the eleven incidents which were not mentioned in the summary of the report,” she added

She cited the incident which took place on 5 September 2012 and led to the killing of civilians who were on their way to the town of Kotum when border guards’ forces opened fire on them in the glare of UNAMID forces who took pictures of the incident.

“The DPKO, in its report to the secretary general, attributed the killing of one civilian and injuring of eight others in this incident to “exchange of fire between government troops and Arab militias,” she added

Elbasri also said that the DPKO and the mission covered up involvement of government troops in a deadly attack against Beni Hussein tribe in Jebel Amer area in January 2013 in spite of the detailed report prepared by the mission on the attack.

She said the tragedy of the people of Darfur lies in the involvement of the DPKO in obscuring disturbing facts on grave violations committed against civilians, saying the DPKO manipulated numbers of civilian victims in the war.